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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

Skin Cancer Danger: Not Just in Summer

Snow on the ground doesn't mean you don't have to worry about sun exposure. Sunburns -- and skin cancer -- can happen even in winter months.
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The Skinny of Vulnerability

Australia's experience with skin cancer does yield numerous lessons about risk factors for the ailment. In fact, some of these could apply to people in the U.S. and Europe, perhaps making more plausible a prediction of higher skin cancer rates in the future.

Skin cancer develops with cumulative overexposure to invisible UV radiation from the sun. When UV light penetrates the skin, it can damage skin cells and cause them to mutate over time. If these mutated cells aren't destroyed by the immune system, they could develop into skin cancer.

Here are some of the reasons why Australians are so vulnerable to the disease and how the same hazards could affect Americans and Europeans:

'Who's the fairest of them all?' Most Australians migrated from Northern European territories. "We're basically a pale-skin population living in a dark-skinned people's land," Slevin explains. "We've been here for only a little over 200 years and our skin hasn't adapted to the ultraviolet radiation that we're exposed to."

Slevin says the growth of international travel by Americans and Europeans to warm, sunny lands during the fall and winter months has also increased their amount of UV exposure.

Skin is in. In Australia, the U.S., and Europe, exposure to the sun has apparently increased with a strong cultural desire for light-skinned people to get a tan and with a change in dress since the early 20th century.

"People used to shun the sun with their hats and parasols," says Martin Weinstock, MD, PhD, chairman of the skin cancer advisory group for the American Cancer Society. Now, showing bare midriffs and more leg, even outside the beach, is acceptable in many parts of the western world.

Fun in the sun. If it's sunny out, people in Australia tend to go to the beach and play, says Kendra Sundquist, PhD, spokeswoman for The Cancer Council New South Wales. The same could certainly be said of people in other parts of the globe. With a host of outdoor activities from surfing to in-line skating to gardening, there are plenty of reasons for people to venture outside on nice days.

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